With 15 catches for 192 yards, Wes Welker wowed the football masses in New England's throttling of the Jets on Sunday. But before the wiry wideout ever even donned the Patriots' navy, silver, red and white, Welker was wowing Bill Belichick and his staff dating all the way back to his college years.
In four years at Texas Tech, Welker had 259 receptions for 3,019 yards and 21 touchdowns to go with 79 rushes for 456 yards and two touchdowns. He also scored eight touchdowns returning punts in his career, a mark that is still tied for the NCAA record. But such numbers didn't earn him a phone call on draft day in 2004.
"He was definitely on our radar, but you look at him and he doesn?t have
great time speed, he doesn?t have great size. But he?s quick, he
catches the ball," Belichick said of Welker, the student-athlete, on Monday. "They ran a lot of tear screens and stuff like that
down there at [Texas] Tech, so it wasn?t like you see him running a lot
of perimeter routes. He kind of did what he does here."
Welker went undrafted and was quickly signed by the Chargers, meaning that Belichick was unable to swoop in and get him. But that wasn't even the bad news, as Welker was cut and eventually got picked up by AFC East rival Miami.
That's when Belichick and the Pats got a firsthand lesson on passing up interesting college players without prototypically great speed or size.
"He killed us in Miami. I remember it," Belichick added. "We had someone double No. 83 [Welker] down there, when he was playing in the slot in Miami and he we still couldn?t cover him. He caught nine for 110 — whatever it was — and then he returned a punt 70 yards down to the 1-yard line against us. He killed us. The next time we played him, we doubled him, but we still had trouble with him."
Welker logged 240 kickoff return yards on 10 returns in his rookie season in two games against the Pats and added 127 punt-return yards on seven attempts. A year later, Welker grabbed four catches for 81 yards to go with 188 kickoff-return yards in both games against New England. Overall, the former Red Raider had a pretty decent career against Belichick and the Pats as he owns 14 receptions for 157 yards, 21 kickoff returns for 521 yards (24.8 YPR), and 18 punt returns for 213 yards, including a 71-yard return his rooke year.
So what did Belichick do when the Dolphins offered Welker, then a restricted free agent, just $1.35 million in a tender contract? They traded for him. That's right, the kid who couldn't get drafted just four years earlier, was going to New England for not one, but two future draft picks.
"If you can?t beat him, join him," Belichick admitted. "If you can?t stop him, then try to get him on your team. That?s basically the philosophy."
But this acquisition was more than just adding a skilled player, it was taking something away from an enemy. And as much as the Dolphins are kicking themselves for letting Welker
escape, the Pats couldn't be happier.
The addition immediately paid
off as the 5-foot-9, 185-pounder grabbed 112 receptions in his first
season in New England after coming into the year with just 96 career catches in three
previous NFL seasons. Along with his 1,175 receiving yards, he chipped in
with eight touchdowns and 249 punt return yards — all while playing
alongside pigskin vacuum and future Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss.
"It?s one thing to acquire a player, it?s
another to acquire a player that you don?t have to play against twice a
year," Belichick said. "If you get the right guy, then you?re adding one onto your team,
but you?re also taking him off a team that you have to play twice a
This year, Welker is on pace to shred his personal single-season marks in receptions and receiving yards as he has 79 catches for 854 yards in just eight games — good for an average of 106.8 yards per game.